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Issue #1548      23 May 2012



The TAFE sector in Australia is the pre-eminent provider of vocational education to students and workers across Australia. It delivers more than 80 percent of government funded vocational education in every major city and most regional and rural areas across the country.

TAFE provides high quality trades training in industries across the country and high level skills in a range of key industry sectors. TAFE offers opportunities for workers and students to access literacy and numeracy and second chance education. It is a highly valued public institution whose resources belong to the Australian community.

In the past 20 years, governments at state and federal level have neglected the TAFE system, despite the fact that it plays a crucial role in developing Australian industry, addressing skills shortages, building communities and in innovative responses to the future needs of the Australian economy.

Congress considers it disingenuous for governments to continue to profess their support for the important role that TAFE plays, while at the same time introducing and prosecuting policies that have the very effect of undermining its ability to provide quality, affordable training to Australians of all backgrounds.

Between 2004 and 2009 government recurrent expenditure per hour of training declined by 15.4% part of a longer term trend that has seen funding per hour decline by about 25.7% from 1997.

Government funding for TAFE has declined both because of the decline in recurrent public VET expenditure per hour, and because of the shift of government recurrent funding away from the TAFE sector and towards private for-profit providers that has occurred under market-driven policies of contestable funding. If both expenditure per hour and TAFE’s share of that expenditure had been maintained at even 2004 levels, TAFE’s funding would have been about $974 million (or 18.9 percent) greater in 2009 than it actually was.

Conditions in the recent COAG agreement will result in increased marketisation and competition. A number of state governments across the country are poised to introduce these so-called “reforms”. Events in Victoria over the last three years should be a salutary lesson for the rest Australia.

The Victorian government has been at the forefront of market reforms of the TAFE sector. Between 2008 and 2011, TAFE “market” share in Victoria dropped from 75% to 48%. At the same time, private provider market share trebled from 14% to 40%. At the end of 2011, as a result of a massive budget blowout, TAFE funding was cut and this led to 300 permanent teacher redundancies, and the loss of many casual and contract positions in the sector.

In the 2012 budget on May 1, the Victorian government slashed a further $300 million from TAFEs. This will result in further massive job losses, campus and course closures and will deny Victorian students and workers access to high quality vocational education.

Congress condemns the Victoria government for slashing the TAFE budget, and calls for an immediate re-instatement of TAFE funding in that state.

Congress calls on the federal government to properly scrutinise the implementation of the National Partnership Agreement with all States and Territories, but particularly with Victoria, ensuring that funding from the Federal government does not flow to any State or Territory, but particularly to Victoria until it has met condition 29 (b) in the agreement requiring the development and implementation of strategies: “which enable public providers to operate effectively in an environment of greater competition, recognising their important function in servicing the training needs of industry, regions and local communities, and their role that spans high level training and workforce development for industries and improved skill and job outcomes for disadvantaged learners and communities.”

Congress calls on State and Territory governments to demonstrate their support for TAFE by requiring that the entitlement to a guaranteed training place is offered only at TAFE, as they are entitled to do under the terms of the National Partnership Agreement.

Moved: Pat Forward, AEU
Seconded: Andrew Dettmer, AMWU

Restoring balance in our retail markets

Congress notes that distortions in markets have detrimental implications for Australian industry, businesses, employment and working conditions. Congress agrees that where markets fail as a consequence of a concentration of power by one or a few corporations or companies becoming so dominant that they form monopolies, duopolies or oligopolies and commence exercising unfair market power on competitors, suppliers and/or customers, then government must intervene to ensure fair practices.

Congress notes that the retail food and grocery market is highly concentrated in Australia. Similar high levels of market concentration is being reached in the liquor retailing market and is also increasing in the fuel retailing market. The market dominance means that major retailers are in a position to dictate prices and terms to suppliers.

The excessive market power exercised by the major retailers results in Australian producers and manufacturers of food and grocery products facing increased and unsustainable pressures to meet the retailer’s demands. The result is that many of Australia’s producers and manufacturers of food, groceries and household goods face unsustainable pressure on margins and are responding by reducing their workforce, reduce working conditions or closing their Australian operations and/or moving their operations offshore.

For primary producers and growers, the distortions mean that many cannot get their goods to market while maintaining a reasonable return on their business. All other workers and businesses in the supply chain, including, print and packaging, storage, logistics and transport workers face unsustainable pressures that threaten employment security and health and welfare.

Congress notes that in food and grocery manufacturing, the major retailers are more than retailers. They manufacture, or contract the manufacturing of their own brand products in direct competition with independent suppliers and manufacturers. Their own brand grocery range is often sourced from offshore producers or manufacturers further undermining local producers, industry and employment.

Congress notes with concern that the commercial practices of the major retailers has the potential to threaten Australia’s food security.

Congress agrees that the potential for inappropriate abuse of power by large retailers requires immediate and strong responses from regulators to ensure that such market power is not being exercised against suppliers to the detriment of Australian industry, employment, workers’ health and safety and Australia’s capacity to produce, manufacture, and supply its population with sustainably produced food and goods.

Congress urges the Australian government to sufficiently empower and equip regulators with the appropriate mechanisms to regulate the potential for inappropriate abuse of power by large retailers.

Chevron Campaign

The 2012 ACTU Congress recognises the work of the Maritime Union of Australia and the Construction unions on the Chevron campaign and fully endorses a National and International campaign against Chevron.

The ACTU recognises that multinational companies like Chevron and its contractors are exploiting loopholes in Australia’s Migration Act – loopholes which mean that Australia’s offshore resources projects are often not classified as being in Australia’s territory.

Because of this, companies such as Chevron are bringing in foreign labour to do work that could and should be done by Australian workers. In addition, they are contributing little or no training to Australians in these sectors.

This affects workers in the marine, construction, resource and transport industries.

The Chevron campaign is fighting to secure the protection of Australian jobs, the right of Australian workers to work in their own country on union wages and conditions and for the creation of jobs and opportunities for young and indigenous workers.

The ACTU supports this campaign, and encourages all affiliates associated with these industries to get involved and work together to secure outcomes for workers in these industries.

Moved: Chris Cain, MUA
Seconded: Paddy Crumlin, MUA

BHP dispute

This ACTU Congress declares its full support for the 4,000 mineworkers who have been attempting to negotiate a new Enterprise Agreement at BHP’s seven Central Queensland coal mines for over 18-months now.

We note that the while the CFMEU, AMWU and the ETU have been negotiating in good faith BHP has refused to do so, a point made clear by its chief of global coal operations Marcus Randolph who declared in an email to staff leaked to the media that the company’s demands were “not negotiable now, next month or next year”. This is not in the spirit of good faith bargaining.

We fully support the mineworkers in their campaign to protect their rights at work and defend vital safety, workplace and other conditions such as rosters and accommodation that would damage families and hurt mining communities if BHP has its way.

We condemn BHP’s pursuit of safety deregulation that would transfer vital safety roles from qualified workers on the job to management. We note that this was the key factor that led to the recent Pike River Disaster in New Zealand in which 29 coal miners perished. We further note that the last three big coal mine disasters in Australia all occurred at BHP mines.

We condemn BHP’s insistence on clinging to WorkChoices provisions imposed on BHP coal mineworkers in the last enterprise agreement reached in the Howard era in 2007, particularly the provision that stripped contract and labour hire workers of equal pay and conditions and have allowed them to become a source of cheap labour to undermine permanent employees.

We note that this dispute has occurred in a period when BHP has made the greatest profit in the history of Australia – $23 billion and find it repugnant that at a time when the company has never had more it has never done less.

We call on BHP to start listening to its workforce and respect their right to bargain.

We declare the full support of the ACTU for the BHP mineworkers. In the event that the company continues to refuse to negotiate in good faith and inflicts further harm on its workers, their families, mining communities and investors in its coal operations, we will mobilise support throughout the trade union movement in Australia and internationally.

Musgrave Park, Queensland, Peaceful assembly and protest

The ACTU Congress stands in solidarity with the unionists and Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander activists at the culturally significant site at Musgrave Park, Brisbane.

Congress expresses its concern about the apparent return to negative tactics used by the Queensland government in the 1970s and 1980s against citizens of Queensland.

Campbell Newman has been elected to govern for all Queenslanders, including Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Queenslanders, and this Congress calls on the Newman government and the Brisbane City Council to respect the rights of freedom of speech, peaceful assembly and protest.

Moved: Dave Matters, RTBU Qld
Seconded: Allen Hicks, ETU

Next article – Taking Issue – The real class war

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